In October 2014, Hockessin resident Marisa Maddox thought that the bleeding she was experiencing was just a symptom after childbirth. What she thought was hemorrhoids turned out to be tumors. Four months later at age 30, she was diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer.
Maddox describes the first few months after the diagnosis as a whirlwind. She doesn’t remember what the doctors were telling her because she felt as if she blacked out. But her mother, who is a pharmaceutical sales rep, had a plan. She had immediately set up an appointment for the next week with Dr. Jose Guillem, a surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Photo by Travis Howard
She had one tumor in her anal canal and another one in her rectum. Guillem said that the tumors were highly susceptible to treatment. She had three rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation.
Colon and rectal cancers (colorectal cancer) make up the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women combined. Sixty percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with screening.
Maddox coped with the cancer by making a joke of it. She says she needed normalcy and consistency in her life.
“I went to work every day after having radiation with a portable chemo pump,” Maddox says.
By November 2015, the cancer was in remission.
The disease, however, did take a toll on her family. She was emotionally separated from them.
“My son was too little to understand what was going on. He tried to crawl on me like a normal son does. I couldn’t pick him up because I was scared that the chemo would spill from the pump,” says Maddox.
A few years after she was cancer-free, she received an email from Anna Cowan, a volunteer coordinator for Fight Colorectal Cancer, the country’s leading advocacy organization focused on colorectal cancer policy and research. Cowan asked Maddox to share her story and become an awareness ambassador.
“It was as if the gods were telling me to speak up. I submitted my story to them and next thing I knew, I was sent to Missouri to talk about my feelings. It was one of the best things I ever did,” says Maddox.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Month and Maddox wants to continue to spread the mission for Fight Colorectal Cancer. 100 advocates including Maddox will go to Washington, D.C. between March 16-19 to meet with legislators asking them to lower the age of getting screened for colon cancer from 50 to 45 to help save lives of younger adults and bring more awareness to the disease.
Maddox has some advice for people who are scared of getting screened. “It’s the easiest thing. The prep sucks, but cancer sucks worse.”
Maddox says that one of the most important screenings is the colonoscopy, which involves a flexible tube with a camera being inserted in the anus.
“I had to drink 64 ounces of Gatorade mixed with Miralax (an over-the-counter laxative). It doesn’t hurt. And you’re asleep for the procedure,” she says.
Maddox says that her and her family are back to normal. She still gets a sigmoidoscopy, which is another test for colorectal cancer that looks at part of the colon, every six to nine months.
“Everything is great. Three and a half years later and I’m cancer free. I feel empowered to talk about my story and help as many people as I can,” she says. “Many of my family members have gotten screened after telling my story.”
To join Fight CRC’s awareness efforts this March, visit getbehindacure.org to sign the petition to make sure everyone has access to screening. Supporters can also get involved by taking a #StrongArmSelfie and sharing it on social media.
Maddox’s story will be featured on Fight CRC’s Facebook page and blog on March 15. To learn more, visit FightCRC.org